A.F.A. National Tournament: Prom for Speech Enthusiasts

Black binders, hella cute skirt suits, and a whole lotta talking- these words best describe one of my favorite events on earth- Competitive Speech! Over the past two years I have had the privilege of competing with an immensely talented group of speakers, performers, and social justice advocates as we’ve traveled across the country delivering powerful messages to various audiences. Our end goal? The national speech tournament- a combination of over one hundred colleges and universities duking it out for top team and a year of bragging rights- and this year’s tournament is being held in sunny Gainesville, Florida April 2nd-4th.

While the weekend is just kicking off, there is already so much that I feel compelled to write about- hence today’s post! But first- for those of you who are still asking yourselves, “What exactly is Competitive Speech?” let me give you a brief run down of what this event is and why, to feminists like myself, it matters so much. As you might guess, competitive speech consists of a lot of, well, speaking. Whether it’s an interpretation of literature, a ten-minute prepared speech, or speaking with only two minutes of preparation, this event is essentially, standing up in front of a room of people and letting your voice be heard.

This is why I, and so many of my peers, enjoy this event so darn much. It’s an opportunity advocate and provide a voice for whatever social, political, economic, etc. issue grinds your gears the most. Hate the sexual objectification of breast cancer? Write a speech about it! Feel like women aren’t getting enough credit for their accomplishments in the field of science? Tell the speech community! Not only does speech provide an opportunity to voice opinions, it also acts as a platform for making real-life change through calls-to-action. As a feminist, speech has allowed me to start conversations about the cool girl trope and the lack of proper healthcare in both men and women’s prisons. It has also given me the opportunity to learn about a plethora of problems, causes, and solutions that fall under my role as a feminist.

The national tournament, as proved today, is perhaps one of the best opportunities to voice the messages that we care most about, and engage in conversations about other social justice issues in the process. The tournament, run by the American Forensics Association (forensics is just another word for speech) consists of several individual events through which competitors deliver message-based performances and speeches. While the goal of competing in this competition is to advance on to the final rounds (and maybe pick up a huge-ass trophy along the way) the rewards of this tournament extend far above and beyond competitive success. Because speech allows us to voice our opinions and advocate on behalf of certain issues, the greatest rewards come in the forms of making personal connections and thus, sparking actual change.

JMU team sets off for Nationals! It’s a long walk…

For instance, this year one of my teammates is competing with a speech about the need for buffer zones around abortion clinics in the United States. However, nationals is just a stepping stone for the progress she intends to make on this issue. In the speech, she outlines steps to make buffer zones a reality for women everywhere who are seeking medical attention in a highly protested environment. One of her solutions details how to become a clinic escort. This simple solution has already encouraged several of her competitors to become involved on the issue and in turn, continue the conversation beyond competition.

As the tournament continues to thrust forward, I can’t help but feel overjoyed. Not only do I get to perform my pieces one final time, but I’m surrounded by a community of passionate individuals who will actively listen to what I have to say. It’s an incredible feeling, and it certainly doesn’t have to be limited to competitive speech. Ergo, I challenge you to extend this sport of speaking your mind outside of the speech community! Listen actively, become an advocate for what you feel most passionate about, and find your audience. Competitive speech is certainly an excellent platform for all of these things but unless we continue conversations sparked here outside of the speech community, we cannot expect to change anything.





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